Toronto’s CaféTO program expanding to new areas but Leaside BIA says no thanks

As spring approaches, Toronto anticipates the return of the CaféTO program, which allows restaurants across the city to set up expanded patios along selected streets. Along Bayview Avenue,  CaféTO signs still exist in front of businesses from last year even though the local business improvement association is dead set against the idea.

“The existing parking-related signs on Bayview (see below) are from last year. They were installed by the city in order to dissuade people from parking in the curb lane during rush hour peak traffic periods on blocks where there were curb lane patios,” said Henry Byers, of the Bayview Leaside BIA.
“These signs are not an indication that curb lane patios have been applied for by operators again this year (as BlogTO suggests in a recent article). I have asked the City to remove these signs asap.”
No parking sign for CaféTO on Bayview Avenue from 2023

Bayview Avenue, a major thoroughfare connected to the 401 highway, experiences heavy traffic, especially during rush hours. Concerns have been raised about the potential exacerbation of congestion and parking issues on side streets linked to Bayview due to the addition of CaféTO patios.

While some residents welcome the idea of supporting small businesses and reducing vehicle congestion, others are apprehensive about the impact on traffic flow and street parking availability, including the local business improvement association or BIA.

When contacted, Byers, a spokesperson for the Bayview Leaside BIA provide three reasons for this objection as follows:

  • restaurants and cafes in the BIA already enjoy large sidewalk patios;
  • the history of curb lane cafes in the area over the past two years is a very negative one: they went unimproved and unused, offering nothing to the area other than fewer parking spaces for our customers and clients, increased traffic congestion and negative visual impacts upon our streetscape;
  • last year, the BIA received many complaints from member businesses and local residents regarding curb lane cafes.

“Restaurants and cafes in the area have been advised of the Board’s position on the matter and the Board hopes operators will consider these matters when deciding whether to apply for a curb lane cafe this year,” added Byers.

However, following a challenging year for small businesses and restaurants, many view an expanded CaféTO program as a much-needed boost for struggling establishments this summer.

“Last year, CaféTO became a permanent city program and city council endorsed improvements to make it even better this year,” said Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow. “We welcome new restaurants to the program and look forward to seeing more Toronto residents and visitors than ever experience our city’s amazing outdoor dining options.”

Plenty of room for sidewalk cafés on Bayview Avenue

CaféTO, which was made a permanent City program this year, has transformed Toronto’s commercial main streets, revitalized neighborhoods, and supported hundreds of local restaurants and food suppliers, while protecting thousands of jobs during a very challenging time for the hospitality industry.

In 2023, CaféTO delivered approximately 1,000 places to dine outdoors in Toronto, including more than 330 curb lane cafés, 500 sidewalk cafés (which can remain in place throughout the winter), as well as dozens of patios on private property.

In 2022, CaféTO patios delivered approximately $203 million in economic benefits to the city (per a TABIA-led economic impact study).

Looking ahead to 2024, city staff are planning for a better and more streamlined CaféTO experience for restaurant operators and their patrons. Efforts will include fast-tracking approvals for returning restaurants, ensuring consistency with installation plans, and providing easier, faster approvals for new establishments. The goal is to have at least 90% of approved CaféTO curb lane patios ready to open by the Victoria Day long weekend, with preparations beginning as early as May 1.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO